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MPs, campaigners, survivors and UK NCA urge action to tackle growth in livestreamed child abuse


MPs, campaigners, survivors and UK NCA urge action to tackle growth in livestreamed child abuse

As UK sex offenders fuel growing demand for livestreamed child abuse, MPs, UK National Crime Agency, Ofcom, Home Office and campaigners came together on Tuesday 12th March at a Parliamentary round table hosted by Sarah Champion MP and International Justice Mission UK to discuss how the UK can do more to tackle this serious global crime.

In the face of this deeply disturbing threat, calls were made for urgent action by tech companies, financial institutions, regulators and law enforcement to urgently improve prevention, detection and reporting of the livestreamed sexual abuse that is causing serious harm to children around the world.

According to the UK National Crime Agency, the UK is the third largest global consumer of livestreamed abuse. Offenders in the UK are causing and inciting the sexual abuse of children in places like the Philippines live online, paying as little as £15 to dictate what happens to the child in real time, facilitated by a local trafficker. These acts can include rape, sexual violence and, in extreme cases, bestiality.

Research recently released by NGO International Justice Mission and Nottingham Rights Lab, supported by the Philippine Survivor Network, estimated that 500,000 Filipino children - 1 in 100 - were trafficked to produce new child sexual abuse materials in 2022 alone, driven by Western demand.

"The internet has no borders – and neither does this crime. I’m determined that it will stop and that children like me will be protected." - Cassie*

Cassie, a founding member of the Philippines Survivor Network who was trafficked aged 12 and abused via livestream for five years, spoke at the Parliamentary event saying:

‘As we sit here today, there are men in this country who are paying for children to be abused for them to watch live online. They are watching them be stripped of their dignity and abused for their own satisfaction- just like they watched me.

The internet has no borders – and neither does this crime.

I’m determined that it will stop and that children like me will be protected. The UK government, Ofcom and UK authorities all have a key role in making this happen.’

This week, Stephen Kavanagh, Executive Director of Police Services at Interpol told The Telegraph that livestreamed abuse ‘has increased since the pandemic and it is growing’ adding that ‘the scale of the numbers means that it almost overwhelms us’.

As it stands, livestreamed child abuse is rarely detected. IJM’s John Tanagho explained that: ‘Whilst there are systems in place to detect existing child sexual abuse images and videos, tech companies are largely not detecting livestreamed abuse. This means that a sex offender is more likely to be caught and prosecuted if they download existing child abuse materials than if they pay for a child to be abused in real-time via livestream for them to watch from the comfort of their home. Livestreamed abuse urgently needs to be detected.’

‘This hidden epidemic of live-streamed abuse is harming almost half a million children in the Philippines alone. U.K. sex offenders are leading consumers of this sexual abuse, and as such, the U.K. must take a global lead in stopping it.’

Panellists - International Justice Mission, Internet Watch Foundation, Philippines Survivor Network, SafetoNet, UK NCA and former Anti-Slavery Commissioner Dame Sara Thornton from Nottingham Rights Lab - all called for increased and urgent action to tackle this brutal abuse of children, particularly on detection and reporting.

They called for Ofcom to ensure robust implementation of the Online Safety Act, requiring tech companies to prevent, disrupt, and/or report livestreamed child sexual abuse.

Ofcom, who also gave a response at the event - alongside the UK Home Office - said:

‘This is a system wide problem that requires a system wide response and we see ourselves at Ofcom as very much part of that system and want to encourage the creation of solutions to tackle this hideous crime.’

British safety-tech company SafeToNet showcased its new AI-taught on-device detection software ‘HarmBlock’ could enable child abuse to be detected and blocked. Sharon Pursey OBE, co-founder of SafeToNet said:

‘As leaders in child protection, we’re confident that our HarmBlock technology is the breakthrough solution. Integrated seamlessly into device operating systems, it detects and blocks illegal sexual content instantly. Whether it’s consumption, creation, or distribution, HarmBlock serves as the ultimate defense. Compatible with smartphones, tablets, and laptops, it creates a universal safety standard for the internet.’

The role of financial institutions in curbing abuse was also highlighted. According to research by the Philippine Anti-Money Laundering Council, the UK is second globally in sending payments flagged by financial institutions as “suspicious transactions” for child sexual exploitation. Financial institutions must do more to detect and disrupt suspicious financial transactions, and to report this to law enforcement.

"The police simply don’t have the capacity to address this horrendous crime... We cannot allow this to continue." - Sarah Champion MP

Campaigners also urged UK authorities to ensure that UK offenders who pay for and direct livestreamed sexual abuse are prosecuted using strong charges and receive prison sentences commensurate to the gravity of their harm, and that foreign victims receive compensation.

Sarah Champion MP said:

‘The disgusting crime of livestreamed child abuse is rising exponentially. It’s critical that action is taken now – tech companies, financial institutions and law enforcement all need to do more to proactively prevent and detect this abuse, and protect children.

The police simply don’t have the capacity to address this horrendous crime which means across the planet vulnerable hundreds of thousands of children are being horrifically exploited. We cannot allow this to continue.’

"This is a significant global issue - it requires an international, collaborative response." - Wendy Hart, National Crime Agency (NCA)

Wendy Hart, Deputy Director of child sexual abuse at the NCA, said: “Tackling child sexual abuse (CSA) in all its forms is a priority for the NCA. Livestreaming is particularly concerning offending, where offenders pay to watch child sexual abuse. This is a significant global issue - generally the facilitators and child victims are located abroad – and it requires an international, collaborative response.

“Although livestreaming can happen anywhere, the Philippines is a key hub for commercial livestreaming of child abuse. The National Crime Agency works alongside local law enforcement to combat online CSA with a Philippines nexus.

“We also work with international partners to enhance our collective understanding of and response to the threat.

“We continue to engage with private sector, including tech companies, international law enforcement, and NGOs to combat this threat and aim to stop it from happening in the first place.”

*Pseudonym used to protect survivor

With thanks to Sarah Champion MP, Chair for the Roundtable, and the panel:

Dame Sara Thornton, DBE QPM, Professor of Modern Slavery Policy, Rights Lab, University of Nottingham, Former Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner

Cassie*, Leader at the Philippines Survivor Network and advisor to IJM

John Tanagho, Executive Director of IJM’s Center to End Online Sexual Exploitation of Children

Sharon Pursey OBE, Co-Founder of SafetoNet.

Michael Tunks, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Internet Watch Foundation (IWF)

Wendy Hart, NCA Deputy Director CSA

Christian Papaleontiou, Deputy Director, Tackling Child Sexual Abuse Unit, Home Office

Sarah Blight, Online Safety Principal at Ofcom

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